We thought it’d be fun to take a snapshot of what we’re doing, loving, and feeling by finishing a set of sentence starters every few months. Today, after two months in site and four months in country, is the first installment.
1. Filling my time these days is…
A: reviewing conversations I’ve had to make sure I understood things correctly, looking up words I don’t know, thinking of how I could have said what I said using a correct tense, or more like a native Spanish speaker would have said it, and then resting my mind from all that constant work by weeding the garden, doing some yoga, or watching TV episodes on the computer. I also walk around town, saying hello to everyone, stop to drink tereré with whoever invites us, and buy vegetables from one of the dozens of stands around town as a way to talk to more people. I eat meriendas (afternoon snacks) with our host family and their friends, go to the comedor (soup kitchen) 3 days a week to hang out with the kids before lunch and clean up after, read by myself or aloud to Isaiah, and give myself pep talks about how great it will be after I understand more Guaraní (with hopes of gaining motivation to actually study it more).
I: During the first 10 weeks here in Paraguay, every minute of every day was planned out during training–or at least it felt that way. Now that we’re at our service site, my time is filled with walking around town, chatting it up with people that we halfway know, spending time at the soup kitchen for youth, drinking mate with folks that we pass on the street, and whispering sweet nothings to the plants in the garden to get them to grow.
2. The strangest thing lately is…
A: Isaiah’s and my role reversal. In the States I was the chatty one who tried to finish Isaiah’s sentences if he so much as took a small sip of breath. Here, in Spanish, I am the slower talker and Isaiah has noticed himself finishing my sentences, or cutting in to finish my story to our host family when I stumble getting my words out. It’s opened both of our eyes – how frustrating it often is to have the other cut into the space you need to form your idea and get your own words out, and how tempting it is when words come easily to you to try to “help” the other out by offering words of your own. It’s made for many fits of laughter as we embarrassingly recognize ourselves in the other. But I feel my words coming easier as of late so I might take back my chatty role! Or better yet, maybe we’ll now find a new balance.
I: The painted tree phenomenon. Here you’ll find trees, especially around plazas, have their trunks painted white up to about chest level. Initially I thought it was some sort of pest control, but as time has gone on I’ve learned that nope, it’s just the “lindo (lookin’ good) factor” at play and it’s there for the aesthetics of the place.
3. My favorite yuyos at the moment are…
A: first of all, yuyos are herbs that you can add to the water or the yerba (tea-like leaves) of mate (hot tea-like drink) or tereré (cold tea-like drink) to both give it a nice flavor and also help with different ailments (digestion, cholesterol, etc.) My favorites of the moment are the leaves from the lemon trees or the ever-refreshing mint.
I: Ahenho. Well, it’s not exactly my favorite yuyo, but I was most impressed by it as my face nearly self-imploded from its extremely strong and bitter flavor. Touché, ahenho. Touché.
4. What I’d miss most if I hopped on a moto* today is…
(*The Peace Corps has a few rules that are very rigid. One is no riding on motorcycles because they are practically the leading cause of death here. If you choose to ride one, you have one choice: aisle or window on the next plane outta here.)
A: the tranquilo, laid back lifestyle here. For example, our bus broke down on the way back from our site visit. It was a hot, muggy day and of course there was no air conditioning. When I realized why we had stopped I listened for the grumblings that would surely rise up from the passengers who had paid hard-earned money to take a ride on this bus and certainly had better, more important things to do than sit and sweat while men tinkered under the hood for what turned out to be 45 minutes. Instead I heard calm. A few people got up and stood in the breeze outside. Most just sat quietly in the bus. I was surprised, then pleased. The attitude was contagious as I purchased a snack at the nearby dispensa, happy to have the opportunity to do so.
I: First of all, I’ll probably miss having the opportunity to continue riding on the moto. Secondly, it’s been great taking a break from the faster-paced life in the states and having time to sip mate with new folks while practicing our Spanish and Guaraní.
5. My current comida tipica (traditional Paraguayan food) obsession is…
A: chipa, a delicious bread snack made from corn and yucca flour. I love it most when it’s warm, crispy around the outside, and with just the right amount of cheese kneaded in. And yes, I’ve been known to go on an hour and a half mission in 90 degree heat to track it down on a Sunday when apparently many of the usual haunts don’t bake it. (I completed the mission and enjoyed three chipas that day!) As a bridge to thinking in terms of local currency (Guaranies), for now I think in terms of how many chipas we could buy with that money. (Most chipa = 2,000 Guaranies, or about 45 cents.)
I: My arteries are crying out as I type this, but the heart-stopping asados (BBQ’s) here have really hit the spot for me on more than one occasion. During training our family in Ypane had asados about every weekend, which was probably more than I should’ve been eating. Here in Yuty we’re at a more reasonable level of meat intake even though our host family members are cattle ranchers.
6. And my favorite Guarani
flavor phrase of the week is…
A: iporã che ra’a (pronounced ee-pour-ah shay-rah-ah) which is my new favorite response to the “how are you” question. It means something like “doing well, buddy old pal.”
I: Upéare (ew-pay-ah-ray) = “it’s like that!” Really, depending when it’s said and the voice inflection, it can mean “oh, so that’s why!”
7. Paraguayans say the darndest things…
A: like how you just might explode if you eat a watermelon at the same time as you’re drinking tereré. Or if you mix watermelon and grapes in your fruit salad. Something about the acid levels, I believe.
I: Gracias. In Spanish class, I learned that this mean thanks. Here, it means “no thanks” just as often as it means “thanks.” Say, for example, your friend offers to serve you some freezing cold tereré on a scorching hot day. After noisily slurping up the water, the last thing you’ll want to say is “gracias” as it means, “that was great, but I’m done drinking tereré with y’all for now” as I can guarantee that one sip won’t have been enough to quench your thirst.
8. The MVP (Most Valuable Paraguayan) Award goes to…
A: Cecilia, our host, because she invites us to family gatherings and birthday parties so I’m starting to feel like a part of the extended family, she chats with us about what’s happening in the town so we’re clued in, and is very straight-forward in her way of talking which is not always a common trait among Paraguayans but one I appreciate from her.
I: My award goes to Arami, our host niece from Ypane because:
- Her name means “a little bit of heaven” in Guaraní, which I thought was pretty cool once I started learning the language.
- She’s always up for playing soccer or Dutch Blitz.
- She reminds me of my own niece of the same age in an eery number of ways.
- She really got into baking delicious cakes with Allison and is willing to share them with the family.
9. What I wouldn’t give for a…
A: bar of good dark chocolate. We’re in the process of tasting all the dark chocolate sold in this country and have yet to find anything deeply satisfying to the soul the way dark chocolate should be. It was a sad day when our baggie full of chocolate bars from home ran out.
I: ‘nother laptop. My goodness, I had no idea we’d almost always want to be using the laptop at the same time when we had a little downtime at home. Don’t believe what they told you in preschool: this whole “sharing” business is for the birds! Well, maybe there is a lesson somewhere in there as it reminds us that not everything need rely on technology. But, when that’s where we get much of our information about the world, is our primary tool for communicating with folks back home, has our language flash cards, and is our source for reading and entertainment, it sure can be hard to give it up!
A: Oh yeah, that is so true. I’ll live with mediocre chocolate for another computing device.
10. Most likely to be published in a Peace Corps brochure is when…
A: my heart skips a beat when the kids from the comedor run to great me and I know they’re thrilled that I’m here in Paraguay. Although I’ve got to keep it real and admit that since I wrote that post the honeymoon phase has ended and you’ll now find me researching discipline techniques for hoards of kids (when it’s my turn with the computer anyway), many whose only language thus far is Guaraní.
I: The time I showed a local Paraguayan youth how to use the computer, and he went on to start his own software development company that is designing programs for businesses both here in Paraguay and abroad. Well, that hasn’t actually happened yet, but give me a few more months and we’ll see.
11. Coming up next…
I: Next week is our site presentation, during which the coordinator for our sector presents us to the community and brags about all the awesome things we can offer. Soon afterwards we’ll begin in earnest with getting involved in projects with different groups in the community.
A: Then around Thanksgiving we have Reconnect which will reunite our training group for the first time! We’ll receive training on how to flow into the next stage of our service: doing more stuff since so far we’ve ideally been observing how things currently work and building relationships with the community members.
Now that we’ve spilled our stories, what is the strangest thing that’s happened to you lately? What other questions or sentence starters do you think we should throw in this mix to reflect on every few months?